Big birds are on the move
For new birders, the sport can be frustrating, requiring laser-sharp vision and bionic hearing. Good news: While the small,
delicate (and harder to see) species have already flown south for the winter, the hardy birds arrive this month. Their large
size and easy-to-observe behavior make them ideal gateway birds for casual watchers.
The white-plumaged trumpeter swans are the largest waterfowl in North America, typically weighing 25 to 30 pounds. They nest and breed in Alaska, live up to 20 years, and once were near extinction. Where to see: Skagit Valley, near Washington’s Puget Sound; Yellowstone National Park.
Many snow geese breed as far away as Siberia. In groups, their calls can be heard more than a mile away. They have white plumage with a black patch like a grin on their bills. Where to see: California’s Central Valley; Skagit Valley; and Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico.
The northern pintail duck attracts mates with its two long tail feathers and by making a popping sound. This is a dabbling duck, meaning it dips its beak below the surface to eat aquatic plants. Where to see: Great Salt Lake area.
Bald eagles are raptors, hunting for live prey—but unlike hawks (in the same family), they prefer fish. They sound like a clucking chicken, and tend to return to the same nest year after year. Since 2007, they’re no longer on the endangered list. Where to see: Klamath Basin, Oregon.
The most powerful flying duck, the canvasback has massive chest muscles, a pointed head and bill, and wings that whistle when it flies. A diving duck, it submerges underwater to eat plants and clams. Where to see: San Francisco Bay Area.
Sandhill cranes (pictured) like to display, bugling loudly and crane dancing, almost like a “flash mob for birds,” says expert birder Alvaro Jaramillo. In flocks of hundreds, they fly in V formations or lines, drafting on one another. Where to see: Bosque del Apache, New Mexico; Sacramento Valley .